This Utah Jazz team just doesn’t know how to quit.

Without Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton, the Jazz beat the No. 2 team in the Western Conference just two nights after beating the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.

The Jazz literally didn’t have their three top scorers available and still found a way to not only score enough, but also to stop one of the best offenses in the league in a 128-120 win over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night.

And leading the fight were the Jazz’s pair of rookies.

Ochai’s career-high

Ochai Agbaji’s continued improvement is going to wind up being one of the most important developments of the 2022-23 season as it relates to the Jazz’s future.

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He started the season off on the fringes of the rotation and was splitting his time between the Jazz and the G League. When he got into games because of injuries to other players, he wasn’t having plays run for him. He was just spotting up as a shooter, usually in the corner.

Now, not only is he clearly a focal point who is having plays run for him, but he’s starting to gain confidence and to read the game in a way that is allowing him to attack off the dribble and find cutting lanes.

He scored 27 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out three assists, and blocked a shot. And he did all of that on 8-of-14 shooting overall, including 6-of-10 from 3-point land, and only had one turnover in his 33 minutes.

Maybe the best part of the whole thing was that on a night when he was starting and then went on to score a career-high 27 points, his mom was in the crowd watching. She was able to make it out once earlier in the season to watch a couple of games, but this time was obviously much better considering Agbaji’s place on the team.

“It’s a really special night for her to see that,” he said. “She came to the games over Halloween weekend, and I played a little bit then too, so she got to see that. But then obviously later in the season she came in here and saw my career-high, so it’s a really special night.”

Kessler on Domantas Sabonis

We’ve talked a lot this season about how amazing Walker Kessler has been, and I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say things like amazing or incredible or unbelievable when talking about Kessler.

To do the things he’s doing in his rookie season and to have basically been doing them all year long and just fine tuning everything and getting better every night, is nothing short of amazing and he deserves all the credit.

10 points, eight rebounds, five blocks, and two assists on Monday night. Now, the five blocks certainly jump out (although that seems almost commonplace for Kessler at this point) but the rest of the stat line is not super outstanding. But if you understand what Kessler was able to do defensively against Domantas Sabonis, it makes it all that much more impactful.

Sabonis is an All-Star, will probably be All-NBA this season and is arguably the best player on one of the winningest teams in the league this season.

Sabonis finished the night going 4-of-10 from the field and scoring just 11 points. This season Sabonis is averaging 19.2 points per game and Monday was just the 10th time this season that he has converted on four or fewer field goal attempts in a game.

Kessler absolutely made life awful for Sabonis and that’s no small task.

“Walker was awesome,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “Sabonis is one of the best bigs in the league. He’s incredibly physical, he does such a good job of getting to your body early … I thought Walker did a good job of bracing for that first bump and then was able to use his length late. Five blocks and there’s probably eight more shots in there that he altered to a point where you can almost count them as a block.”

Buy-in and readiness continue to impress

Did you have Udoka Azubuike scoring a career-high 13 points (seven in the fourth quarter) and grabbing eight rebounds on your Jazz bingo card? What about an 18-point, 10-assist double-double from Kris Dunn? Or, a near triple-double 19 points, 10 rebound and eight assists from Kelly Olynyk?

Well, that all happened on Monday night.

On any given night, the players on this team are ready to fight and ready for their name or number to be called and from Markkanen down to two-way player Johnny Juzang, every single player refuses to believe that they are out of the fight. 

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The Jazz were leading by as many as 25 points against the Kings and the Kings battled all the way back, making a huge run in the second half and it looked like the Kings kind of stopped messing around and that they were going to shut the Jazz up. But no.

It didn’t matter that they didn’t have Markkanen and that they didn’t have Clarkson or Sexton. They had Rudy Gay scoring 11 points off the bench and Simone Fontecchio scoring 12 points. Everyone was ready to contribute and ready to fight down to the last minute.

This is where Hardy gets all the credit. He has all of these players believing in a way that is leading to improbable wins. 

“The thing I continue to be most proud of with this team is that every night it just seems like different people continue to step up and continue to use the opportunities that are given to them to try to contribute to winning,” Hardy said. “I love this team.”

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